The McCormick Foundation’s investment in youth journalism and news literacy programs helps students become more knowledgeable news consumers, perform better in school and develop into better-informed citizens. At the core of the youth media programs we support is journalistic inquiry—the craft of interviewing, fact-finding, fact checking. These initiatives focus on the importance of news to young people, the importance of the First Amendment in our democratic society and ways to discern reliable information.
One vivid example is Michael Mahaffy, a graduate of Hyde Park Academy on the South Side of Chicago. Born into a low-income family, dealing with a father battling drug addiction, Michael struggled in school, ended up falling into a rough crowd and got arrested. Fortunately, he found True Star, a program that provides Chicago youth the opportunity to learn media production, from magazine publishing to radio broadcast.
“I stumbled into a classroom one day after school and True Star people were in there. Honest to God, I was supposed to go pick up drugs to sell that day at 4 o’clock, but I never made it. I heard Ms. Deanna McLeary [executive director] say True Star pays students to learn. That’s all I needed to hear. To me, that sounded like all reward, plus the bonus of no risks involved,” Michael says. It turned out to be a life-changing decision.
Traditionally, the Foundation’s grant-making activities have been shaped by the life cycle of a journalist from mid-career training programs to senior news management leadership initiatives. After completing an intensive strategic planning process, we have embarked on a strategy of allocating resources to educating news audiences, with a primary focus in Chicago and selective efforts nationwide. We are seeing exciting and innovative models take root—from networks of youth media organizations to news literacy programs in after-school and in-school environments.
In this article, we will reflect on five promising trends that we are seeing in the youth media field and offer a look into the innovative, exciting projects that are helping to build the field.
Networks of Youth Media Organizations
In early 2007, the McCormick Journalism Program began convening 11 Chicago-based youth media grantees for intensive professional development and training. Led by hired consultants, youth media leaders convened and ultimately formed the Chicago Youth Voices Network (CYVN). Today, CYVN collectively trains more than 6,000 youth per year in intensive, sustained programming. With professional supervision, youth produce media on issues ranging from education to the environment, youth violence to community health. The collective audience for in-person showings of youth-produced work is in the tens of thousands; the online, radio and television audiences approach a million.
CYVN partners with more than 60 public high schools and scores of other nonprofit groups. More than 3,000 Chicago public school teachers and nonprofit staff benefit each year from resources provided by these groups or attend trainings that range from half-day workshops to journalism fellowships.
Parlaying CYVN’s success, McCormick provided seed funding in 2010 to launch the Youth Media Los Angeles Collaborative (YMLAC), a consortium of advocates for young journalists, connecting youth media producers to a vibrant web of mentors. The group recently launched a Web site that seeks to aggregate youth media resources and content from students, educators, professional journalists, non-profit agency trainers and members of advocacy and literacy organizations. The fledgling YMLAC, led by Cal State University Northridge professor Linda Bowen, has proven an invaluable coordinator for the thousands of youth in Los Angeles.
Content Production Collaborations
McCormick’s stewardship of the Chicago Youth Voices Network was elevated by grants of $60,000 from the Chicago Community Trust and $35,000 from the Rappaport Foundation to carry out a citywide project, NUF SAID, to survey, evaluate and report on the challenges faced by Chicago teens.
The project, which kicked off in January 2010, convened youth from eight CYVN youth organizations and provided training on creating polls, using social media to disseminate surveys and group reporting. More than 850 local youth responded to online polls on issues such as crime and violence, health, education, employment and the environment. Working together toward specific goals has further galvanized CYVN leadership and the benefits of this collaboration, said NUF SAID project coordinator Tom Bailey. “NUF SAID created space and time for cross-pollination among program staff and youth, to a degree that was not really possible before.” For instance, NUF SAID has brought together a group of about 75 CYVN youth and their adult coordinators four times during the first six months of the project. During each convening, youth and adults from various organizations worked together to help plan, shape and complete the project objectives. “This kind of collective authorship has brought the entire sector closer together,” Bailey said.
Partnering with Local Universities
Colleges and universities play a key role in convening journalism advisers, providing resources (technology and meeting space) and connecting with students on media production opportunities.
In Chicago, the journalism, media and communications programs at Northwestern, Loyola, DePaul and Roosevelt universities and Columbia College expanded their rich training programs to include teens in the communities they serve. Roosevelt University, in collaboration with the Scholastic Press Association of Chicago, organizes an annual High School Media Awards, which includes multimedia workshops for students and an adviser track for journalism students. More than 300 students and dozens of teachers participate each year in the spring event.
In Los Angeles, where McCormick has made selective investments in pilot youth journalism projects, the Annenberg School at the University of Southern California and the California State University school system are key players in convening and seeding needed journalistic collaborations among educators, community media organizations and mainstream media to ensure that scholastic journalism continues to have a place in public education in face of budget cuts. USC began offering a course in Teaching Journalism to High School Students, building off of a successful college journalism students/high school student mentorship modeled after its Intersections: The South L.A. Reporting Project.
Several of our YMLC partners are also working with the City Colleges of Los Angeles to expand training and resource networks. “We can all shortcut our time and efforts by reinforcing each other’s programs,” says Steve O’Donoghue, director of the California Scholastic Journalism Initiative. The Los Angeles-based initiative provides journalism training and resources to high school journalism advisers by partnering with local journalism and media organizations and involving local college and universities in creating much-needed networks of support.
Contributing to News Literacy
The sheer overpowering and overwhelming 24/7 news cycle leaves a growing sector of the U.S. population unprepared to fully distinguish or appreciate the difference of approaches among professional journalists, information spinners and citizen voices. In addition, the fragmentation of available news sources and digital advances in disseminating information serve to further exacerbate this situation. Schools are challenged to keep up with this onslaught of information in an environment where young people primarily consume their news online. Journalism and news literacy programs can provide:
• A frame of reference to distinguish fact from fiction, opinion or propaganda.
• An understanding of the First Amendment, the role of a free, independent media and the importance of journalistic values.
• A curiosity to seek information and better understand communities, country and international affairs.
The Urban Media Foundation (UMF) is one example of an after-school program that is taking news literacy education head-on by infusing multimedia journalism courses with practical modules that emphasize important financial and life skills.
Located in South Los Angeles, the youth program is housed at the offices of Our Weekly—a weekly paper covering the communities of South Los Angeles. In addition to multimedia reporting and writing courses, youth have the opportunity to take classes such as “Financial Literacy: Making Money Work for You” and “Green Reporter,” which emphasize using media skills to research and communicate project findings.
Measuring and Evaluating Success
It is crucial to have a framework for evaluating the impact of youth media programs. At McCormick, we are taking steps to build a learning community of grantees, other funders and experts in the field to share best practices.
Groups such as the News Literacy Project (NLP) and Stony Brook University (SUNY)—both featured in YMR’s News Literacy issue in June 2010—are creating benchmarks for evaluating the effectiveness of news literacy curriculum and sharing successful frameworks with others in the field.
The News Literacy Project has developed comprehensive pre-and post-testing, student and teacher surveys customizable for middle school and high school levels. Teachers can adapt the quiz for the specific grade level and ability of their students. The concluding performance task is intended to assess both the lessons learned and students’ understanding of the material.
In addition, NLP local staff attends presentations by journalists as well as NLP classes led by teachers. The goal is to help NLP participants improve their performance, according to NLP Executive Director Alan Miller.
Stony Brook is also in the process of designing and testing a new assessment tool for news literacy courses at the collegiate level. The pilot test was administered to Stony Brook students in 2008 and 2009. According to Marcy McGinnis, associate dean of the School of Journalism, preliminary results suggest that News Literacy education has three effects: increased voter registration, short-term increase in news consumption and increased ability to identify flaws in news reports.
Since 2005, the McCormick Foundation Journalism Program has invested more than $7.5 million in youth media. Our projects grapple not only with journalistic standards, critical thinking and free expression, but also ethic issues, information quality and digital citizenship.
Our key priority is to give people, especially youth, the tools to appreciate the value of quality news coverage and to encourage them to consume and create credible information across all media and platforms. We will continue down the path of building an informed citizenry by investing in quality news content, protecting journalistic rights and educating people to better appreciated the importance of news literacy.
Spotlight on Youth Voice
Youth media festivals are golden opportunities to showcase the work of youth and engage local media and train teachers on the importance of journalism and youth voice.
Check out the exciting youth media showcases and conferences happening in:
Young Chicago Authors
2010 Youth Media Conference: Whose Body is it?
Dec 11, 2010
High School News Literacy Summit
November 12, 2010
Youth Media Los Angeles Collaborative/USC
Youth Media Showcase
December 4, 2010
Clark Bell is the McCormick Foundation’s Journalism Program Director. Clark, who joined the foundation in October 2005, oversees journalism grantmaking initiatives and shapes the program’s focus on critical issues facing the news media. Clark is a veteran reporter, columnist, editor, publisher and communications consultant. Prior to joining the McCormick Foundation, he was a managing director for American Healthcare Solutions, where he developed communications strategies for hospitals, medical foundations and technology firms.
Mark Hallett is a senior program officer in the journalism program of the McCormick Foundation. Mark joined the foundation in May 1995, and coordinates grantmaking in a number of areas, including youth journalism, free press, diversity in journalism, and First Amendment initiatives. He also has worked on conference and event planning, development of special initiatives, solicitation and review of proposals, project evaluation and foundation communications efforts. Prior to coming to McCormick, he was an editor at Safety + Health magazine, where he launched an international edition and researched, assigned and wrote stories on workplace safety and environmental issues. Mark has led workshops on nonprofit communications, internet-based research and Web site development, and has worked with several nonprofits to create their Web sites. He is an avid photographer and speaks fluent Spanish and Portuguese. He has traveled extensively and has lived in Mexico, Norway and Spain.
Janet Liao is a program officer in the journalism program of the McCormick Foundation. Janet, who joined the Foundation in May 2009, assists existing grantees with implementing and monitoring their projects and helps solicit and evaluate new journalism grant proposals. She guides grantmaking in a number of areas, including youth media, new media and journalism training, and works on conference development, program evaluation and developing new strategic initiatives. She joined the Foundation from Imagination Publishing, where she served as editor and project manager of customized media projects, including magazines, newsletters, advertorials, webcasts and online videos for Fortune 500 companies and associations.
About The McCormick Foundation Journalism Program
The McCormick Foundation believes there is nothing more critical to the vitality of a democracy than free, vigorous and diverse news media that provide citizens with information they need to make reasoned decisions. The Foundation’s Journalism Program invests in projects that enhance content, build news audiences and protect press freedoms. The McCormick Foundation, which honors the legacy of Robert R. McCormick, is one of the nation’s largest charities, with more than$1 billion in assets. Since 2005, the Foundation has invested more than $7.5 million in youth media programs since 2005.